SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Johnny Griffin – Introducing Johnny Griffin – Blue Note Records

Masterful SACD reissue introduces the “fastest tenor in the West.”

Published on October 8, 2011

Johnny Griffin – Introducing Johnny Griffin – Blue Note Records (1956)/ Analog Productions mono-SACD CBNJ 1533 SA, 47:58 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

(Johnny Griffin – tenor saxophone; Wynton Kelly – piano; Curly Russell – bass; Max Roach – drums)

It didn’t take long for saxophonist Johnny Griffin to impact the jazz scene. By the age of seventeen, he was a member of Lionel Hampton’s band. His artistic flexibility (he was already a seasoned blues player) made him a fixture on the Chicago jazz scene. Signed by Blue Note Records, he recorded three albums by 1957, one (A Blowin’ Session) with John Coltrane and Hank Mobley. A reputation as the “fastest tenor in the West” enhanced his stature and created a stir. Stints with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Thelonious Monk (where he succeeded Coltrane) introduced Griffin to a wider audience. He left Blue Note and recorded several albums for the Riverside label. After moving to France in 1963, he continued to perform and record.

Introducing Johnny Griffin is an auspicious debut. The opening track, “Mil Dew” (an original composition) is launched by a Max Roach intro as Griffin unleashes a series of blazing runs on tenor. He has an uncanny ability to extend voluminous notations, but incorporate them into the melody. Wynton Kelly keeps pace on piano, as the rhythm section Curly Russell on bass and Max Roach on drums) anchors this explosive jam. Another up-tempo number, Cole Porter’s “It’s Allright With Me” is built around roaring tenor play. This is bop at its essence. In some cases, bonus material is superfluous on reissues. However the classic jazz standard, “Cherokee” is another story. The quartet swings with graceful precision, executing a nimble tempo shift before the inevitable eruption on saxophone. Roach’s drumming is powerful and drives the incendiary pace. A cool swing update on “The Boy Next Door” is spry and framed by the bold tenor shades. The same vibe can be found on “Nice And Easy” (not the vocal standard.). Russell and Roach complement the fluid sax lines with percussive subtlety.

Griffin revisits his considerable blues instincts on another self-penned opus, “Chicago Calling”. With a groove beat, he brings a soulful feel to his frenetic phrasing. A more subtle arrangement of “Lover Man” demonstrates acumen for ballad interpretation. Sarah Vaughn and Charlie Parker converted this opus to jazz context, and this rendition is poetry in motion. Griffin captures the raw emotion and Kelly performs another brilliant solo. In keeping with the spontaneity of hard bop, “The Way You look Tonight” (another excellent bonus track) is suffused with ferocity as all four players (especially Roach on drum fills) achieve a cohesive intensity.

Within two years of Introducing Johnny Griffin, the saxophonist would become a jazz legend. Analogue Productions has meticulously re-mastered this groundbreaking album with flawless   results. Originally engineered in Hackensack, New Jersey by Rudy Van Gelder, this SACD conveys the genuine acoustic starkness of fifties’ jazz recordings. (Surprisingly, there are rumors of clashes between Griffin and Van Gelder surrounding the Blue Note sessions.) Regardless, this is a valuable asset to any audiophile jazz collection.

TrackList: Mil Dew; Chicago Calling; These Foolish Things; The Boy Next Door; Nice And Easy; It’s All Right With Me; Lover Man; (Bonus Tracks): The Way You Look Tonight ; Cherokee

—Robbie Gerson

 




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